What do you really need for full time van life?

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Let’s talk about motorhome equipment & what we actually need. When you live full time in your motorhome (or van) storage is hugely important. What we have with us is nearly everything we own (apart from a few boxes in storage in Jersey). Space management is a part of our daily routine. We have learned to be pretty minimal but are glad of our extra space & luxuries compared to other smaller vans we’ve seen. Basics are clothing, power, waste management, food & water but what else do we carry with us?

Stevie (our motorhome) and our e-bikes at Lake Bled, Slovenia

Our folding e-bikes and electronics are probably our most used items, especially our phones & laptops (for work, social media and entertainment). The drone we really missed after it was stolen in Spain, but now we have a new one “Yay!”. Callum is ‘the tech guy’ out of the two of us so he has cables, adapters, extensions and chargers for nearly every occasion. For good photos and videos a selfie stick is useful, as are our bicycle phone mounts. There are lots available but we like ones that we can quickly take our phones out of when we see a great shot. We also carry a mini flexible tripod with us for hands free ‘action shots’ of the two of us when we’re out and about, sightseeing, hiking etc that can be wrapped around a tree branch, gate, fence or pretty much anywhere. We’ve found that purchasing a pay as you go sim card from the country or area you’re travelling through has been the best deal for data on the go. So far we have had sim cards from Belgium and Spain. As Jersey is in the unique position of not really being a part of Britain nor Europe (sometimes helpful, many times a headache), our Jersey roaming data was rubbish but we have heard that if you’re from the UK then EE and GiffGaff do great roaming deals. Definitely shop around and ask about duration if you’re planning on being out of the UK for more than 30 or 90 days, some require you to come back to the UK every now & then. Vodafone Spain does a deal, 35GB per month for £20, which is the best that we’ve found so far.

Callum would likely prioritise the electronics. He needs his laptop for work (so we can afford to travel!) and it’s also his way to relax & keep in touch with friends. His favourite addition to the van has been the USB chargers above the bed with the adhesive nets (to plug our phones into overnight- see photo below) and the 2 new batteries (AGM/deep cycle) that we put in for the solar panel which means we can stay out longer when wild camping but still charge things.
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We have a reasonable amount of clothes (about two weeks worth) and mostly wear the same things over again BUT when we’ve had longer between laundry days those extra pairs of pants have come in handy! We each have two smallish cupboards that everything fits into, we donated the rest of our clothes to charity before we left. If you’re considering moving into a van/motorhome, it’s the perfect time to sort through your wardrobe and get rid of all the things that you haven’t worn in a while. It’s likely that someone else will have use for them. I like to use these Savisto packing cubes to sort things that we don’t use so often (such as swim wear, cold weather accessories & our electronics). Obviously we need layers (plus hats, gloves & scarves) and waterproofs, as much as we try to keep to mild, sunny climates it’s best to prepare for all sorts of weather. Even on sunny days the early mornings & evenings can be cold. We keep boots/wellies in shoe holders by the door for the night time/early morning run to toilet when we’re on campsites, and flip flops/sliders are great if we need to “just head outside quickly” (I love these wellie shoes which are so easy to get on and off hands free). Our water shoes are really handy for wild water swimming or stony beaches. Everything we wear is easy wash, quick dry and non iron!!

Laundry day in Split, Croatia

As the chef, the kitchen & cooking equipment to me is really important; it’s used every day. Read more about motorhome cooking here. We’re lucky as the motorhome came with a full gas oven, hob, grill and a good sized fridge, which means we have more options and can last longer between food shops. I have lots of zero waste storage items that mean less litter and less waste (which also saves us money) and helps us live more sustainable lives. My favourites are the silicone resealable pouches (perfect for half an avocado/pepper) which can be used in the fridge, freezer or microwave and also for liquids such as left over sauces or soups. I have an assortment of left over takeaway containers that I brought away with us that are great when I do batch cooking (1 pack of mince makes us 8 meals!) or again, for leftovers. Glass jars are also a great option but we have to be careful how we store them so they don’t rattle around when we drive. The salsa sized short, fatter jars are just the right size for half an onion or pepper. I also use wax wraps instead of cling film or foil; washable, reusable and great for covering larger things, like half a melon or open packets of food. Nothing goes to waste in my kitchen! We do have a posh Cadac Chef BBQ that attaches to our gas bottles, although as we spend a lot of time wildcamping and moving from place to place every few days, we’re not usually in one place long enough to set it up and use it much. We do use our foldable campfire more often though. It is so compact and easy to use. The mesh keeps the ash from making any mess and it’s easy to clean and pack away. When we get parked up for a few days, it’s a perfect way to get talking to other vanlifers – there’s something about a few drinks around a fire that draws people together, regardless of where you’re from!
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We were lucky when we bought the van that it had already been kitted out well. We have a refillable gaslow system which means we can refill our canisters with any LPG or Autogas as we travel, we just needed a few extra attachments as different countries use different nozzles. We added 2 x 120 aH AGM deep cycle batteries which can be run down more & last longer than lead acid batteries, and coupled with the solar panel on the roof, we can stay “off grid” for about 14 days (which came in handy during the Coronavirus lockdown). We keep two plastic boxes in the storage cupboard under the bed (accessible from the outside), a ‘water box’ & ‘electricity box’. The water box has everything that we need to fill our water tanks, wherever we are – two hoses, a funnel, an extendable hose & various tap adapters. We treat our main water tank as “non potable” water – suitable for washing dishes & showering, but not drinking (which means that we can fill the tank from any tap without having to worry about getting sick). We keep separate water canisters for drinking. Depending on heat & what we’re doing, the two of us go through around 40L every 10-14 days, however we’re careful to keep track of how much we have left. We drink a LOT of water! The electricity box contains ‘camping/outside’ cables of various lengths with industrial power connectors and also various adapters for Europe & the UK so that we can get connected wherever we are.

We don’t often get to use our full outside ‘set up’ of floor mat/canvas, chairs, table, hammock & awning as we’re not usually in one place for long enough or we’re sleeping in places where ‘camping behaviour’ is prohibited (having camping equipment, chairs etc outside). When we do though, it is so great to have that extra space. It’s like our own portable garden. Our chairs are Quest Traveller chairs which are SO comfortable to sit on and fold back into their bags really easily. The table was cheap and from a local camping shop but again the top comes off easily and the frame folds really flat. Callum’s hammock was a leaving present from his work. We’ve only used it about 3 or 4 times in the last 8 months but we LOVE it. It is so comfortable and luxurious. A great way to relax. The awning was already attached to the motorhome when we bought it & took some playing with to figure out how it worked (the legs fold in and tuck up into the outside edge). It gives us extra shade, is easy to put out and pull back in by one person but is noisy in a small amount of wind (it ‘flaps’ around). Keeping the van cool in the sun and warm when it’s cold has taken some playing with. The blinds on the windows & skylights have reflective backing, which helps to keep the sun out. On hot days we open the skylights & some of the windows but keep the blinds closed as much as we can. The windows also have fly screens on them, as does the habitation door. These have been so helpful when you want cool air in but also want to keep out flies, mosquitoes, bugs and other midges. The motorhome has a built in Truma heating system, which can run on mains electricity (when we’re plugged in at campsites & camper stops) or on gas. Full disclosure, it took us a while to understand how the heating system worked, and take it from me – don’t leave it until a cold night in February to try and figure out why the temperature in the motorhome is only 3°C! Although the heater also heats the hot water, we don’t use the water heater that often. It takes ages and uses a lot of power, plus a cold shower is a great way to wake up!

Our full ‘set up’ in Brittany, France

Before we left Jersey someone gave us a great piece of advice which was to have the tools with us that we needed for all the nuts, bolts & screws in the van. Each van/motorhome is built differently so check before you leave what you’ll need. Our basic kit is based on WD40 (for things that should move but don’t), duct tape (for things that move but shouldn’t) and cable ties (for everything else). But seriously, we have a pretty good tool kit plus a small electric drill, a ratchet screwdriver and a flexible snake screwdriver attachment (with assorted screw heads) as reaching all the screws/bolts in a small space isn’t always so easy. We keep a box of fuses near the fuse board and legally you should have replacement bulbs for all your external lights. Keeping the van looking nice is my job and adhesive hooks and double sided velcro strips are my top tip for attaching ‘pretty things’ like our bunting above the cab bed, signs on the walls, beautiful gifts our friends made for us and hooks for our caps. We use a lot of bungee cords both in and outside of the van. There’s one of the back of each of our bicycles, we use a couple on the bike rack (for the striped safety sign & as extra security in addition to our bike locks), one keeps the habitation door from banging closed if it’s a bit windy and another keeps the water heater door closed whilst we’re driving. They are so useful to have around.

Near the habitation door we keep our boots/wellies, as I said above, but also a wind up lantern and torch (in case we need light during the night). We also have a ‘dump basket’ near the door where we keep our sunglasses, a small first aid kit, my address book for sending postcards home, the selfie stick/camera accessories when they’re not in our back pack & other useful ‘bits’- Callum says it’s useful to have a basket to grab things from on the way out of the door, I say it’s our van equivalent of the ‘man drawer’.

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Extra space for Theodore has been useful too. He has his own ‘apartment’ above the cab, a cat tree to get up and down from there and a ‘bunker’ with a cat flap, to hide in when he’s scared, under one of the seats. Whilst we’re driving he usually sleeps above us and at night he comes and cuddles with us on our bed. His litter tray is kept in the shower so easy for cleaning up. His food bowls & water dispenser fit underneath his cat tree between the two front seats. He is a super travel cat. We’re so glad we brought him with us, even if he does have way more Instagram followers than us!

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We also love our cork backed travel map of Europe. We add colour coded pins of places we’ve been to, places that are recommended to us or where we’d would like to go to. At the top we have photos of all the people we meet as we travel around. On hard days we look at it to remind us of all that we’ve done and how far (literally) we’ve come. The motorhome is OUR HOME. We feel safe inside it, whatever is going on outside. It’s cosy and homely and has everything that we need. We love it!

Gratuitous #vanlife photo (Croatia)

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